Like most all of you (presumably), I've been watching a bit of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. I don't watch much (day job that keeps me away from computers/tv), but the insanity of the first two rounds practically begs for at least some cursory glances at TruTV. I like the Tournament; it's fun to watch Harvard, Dayton, Mercer and others punch far above their weight class. After all, there was a time when a skinny son of a former NBA player shot Davidson into a pretty exciting Tournament. He plays for the Warriors now. He's pretty good.
But turning on tonight's Spurs-Warriors tilt after watching some pretty well-regarded and well-coached college teams like Louisville and St. Louis struggle to get past the 60 point mark in a 40-minute game taught me something: how unfathomably inferior NCAA Basketball is to even slightly messy regular season NBA basketball.
Tonight's game wasn't an amazing game. The Spurs, after a scorching first quarter, cooled off considerably and had to push their way through yet another poor shooting night to get a victory in Golden State. When the old men (Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili) need to get their rest on SEGABABAs, it's assumed that play is going to get a little ragged. End of the bench guys (Cory Joseph, Aron Baynes and Austin Daye) are going to get some burn, and either the offense or the defense is going to take a hit.
So even though the Spurs failed to crack 100 for the second night in a row, again shot under 40% from the field and again were without the services of offensive powerhouse Matt Bonner... the Spurs made every other minute of basketball I've watched in the past two days look like rec league fodder.
College players are not bad. College teams are not bad. College coaches are usually pretty excellent. But the level of play in college basketball is so fumbling and seemingly random that it's hard to appreciate any of the subtleties of the game that even the worst NBA teams show at times. The Spurs are always going to be an extreme example, since Pop has this team working on a higher plane of basketball existence most of the time, but it rarely looked like Louisville and San Antonio were playing the same sport today.
One of the things that infuriates me about college basketball is the inability of college players to get a decent look at the basket given a 35-second shot clock. It is mind-numbing watching failed pick n' roll after failed pick n' roll until the precipice of the dark chasm that is a contested point guard fadeaway midrange jumper (or, CPGFAMRJ, for simplicity). After what has seemed like weeks of that already, Spurs-Warriors was almost entirely the healing salve of efficient basketball one might hope for. Yes, the Warriors turned the ball over 18 times, en route to 27 Spurs points. But at the other end, Austin Daye was slipping passes to Jeff Ayres and the Boris Diaw/Tiago Splitter two man game was in full swing. From the end of the bench all the way up to Tony Parker and the starters, the Spurs epitomize that which college basketball defames, disorganizes and seeks to degrade. I'm not saying the Tournament isn't crazy fun; if you're a fan of good basketball, it's sort of like watching the guys at your gym play an enormous, bracketed tournament until one team is the least exhausted and wins.
Speaking of exhaustion, it's almost exhausting watching the way the Spurs are beginning to click on both offense and defense. This thirteen game winning streak has put the Neurotic Spurs Fan (the NSF) on mute for a moment, raising the volume on the Obnoxious "Media Doesn't Pay Attention to Us" Spurs Fan (the OMDPAtUSF), which is almost just as bad. But while the blogosphere and the twitterverse yammer on in a solipsistic mobius loop about the reality that nobody is talking about the Spurs whilst most everybody is talking about the Spurs, the Spurs have shut their mouths and gone about their business seizing the best record in the league. The Warriors would fancy themselves a championship contender; Mark Jackson's tenure as coach could be on the line if the Warriors don't at least live up to some of this expectation. Yet to watch Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter consistently frustrate and disrupt every basic Golden State offensive possession is a reminder that, at most, there are five title contenders, and more than likely only three (Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and the Spurs, excluding the listless Pacers and the unbelievable Clippers).
To wrap up, back to Stephen Curry for a moment. Curry was routinely caught trying to do too much in this game. He threw three errant passes out of bounds, expecting shooters to be where they were not. He also pushed himself far too hard against Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, to the detriment of the rest of his team's offensive flow. Curry has spent a number of years outside of the collegiate system, yet his game still very much reminded me of what happens when college players stop listening to their coaches and start improvising. The Spurs, a few bull-headed Tony Parker fast breaks aside, never feel out of control, or negatively improvisational.
College basketball lets me cheer for the underdog - the "What State is the School From" team that shouldn't be handling a Jabari Parker-led Duke team but is. But once those jollies have been had (usually by the Sweet Sixteen, definitely by the Elite 8), it's comforting to know that the Spurs are still running as a well-oiled machine, capable of retraining quality basketball atrophied brains back to a semblance of normalcy.
Quote of the Night
(Brett Brown's) my guy and I feel bad for them, and I wish we could help them out, but...
Danny Green - 18 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 1 block on 6-13 shooting (5-9 from range)
Giving Danny Green a Game MVP often feels like a reward for the Spurs Team. If Danny is firing and hitting his shots, it's usually because players are around to find him to hit open shots. And not that that wasn't the case tonight... but Green seemed far more in control of himself in other areas that we have seen even in this, his improved '13-'14 season. Danny has quietly developed a very good chemistry with Tiago Splitter, and is able to hit Tiago with a head of steam as the roll man on his picks. We'll highlight some tweets further down, but Danny had a few passes that would've seemed like miracles last year.
Secondly, and it's a given but must be said, Danny Green is crucial to playing the Warriors in the Playoffs. The Warriors sport both Curry and Klay Thompson, two incredibly talented guards who can shoot the ball from literally anyplace. When Kawhi Leonard is tasked with shutting one down, that leaves Danny Green the other. In this effort (and it is an effort, the way Mark Jackson forces defenders to stay with the Splash Brothers through screens), Danny is frequently excellent. He stays right on the hip of the opposing player, and has lost that nagging tendency to foul that he had in his early years.
An all around fantastic game from Green, and not just because the #V3RD3 was extra spicy. Oh, and he blocked Jermaine O'Neal. No biggie.
Kawhi Leonard/Boris Diaw/Patty Mills' Shooting Nights
All three were valuable in other places, but when you're trying to get rest for your big three, going 8/37 is not going to cut it.
By the Numbers
- 25/38 - Danny Green's recent three point shooting numbers. If you didn't notice, we have reached the HOT part of icyHOT.
- 8 - Technical fouls for Gregg Popovich this year, one shy of tying Tom Thibideau for the league lead. C'mon Pop, get angry!
- 3/15 - Golden State's three point shooting numbers tonight. We got them full strength (minus Iguadala), but something is seriously off about this team.
- 17 - Points for Tiago Splitter, which basically meant that, although this game is close, the Spurs were always going to win. The Spurs, this season, are 7,500,123-0 when Tiago scores more than 10 points (note: this stat is only a slight exaggeration)
Bird is the Word
@Matthew_Tynan Basketball players have to poop sometimes. Even French ones.— LJ (@LJRotter) March 23, 2014
Feel the need to lead with this, just because #poopjokes
Spurs might outscore Pacers by half.— Michael Erler (@MichaelErlerSBN) March 23, 2014
I'm not necessarily frightened that the Pacers are crashing to Earth as hard as they seem to be right now... but it's certainly not the greatest thing to think about. They will surely challenge the Miami Heat, but I can't say I consider them contenders, given the bafflingly bad play Paul George and company have presented recently.
In Reference to Jermaine O'Neal. I think this is insane, but then I remembered some guy in grade school trying to convince me that O'Neal was going to have a better career than Duncan because he came out of high school. Yeesh.
Why am I covering basketball when THERE ARE ELEPHANT ESCAPES HAPPENING IN ST. LOUIS?!? http://t.co/eLNy5XENDd— Joan Niesen (@JoanNiesen) March 23, 2014
I wonder how much money it would take to get Pop to leave the Spurs - if its under 30m a year, its a steal.— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) March 23, 2014
I've resisted for awhile, but no longer: Pop for Coach of the Year.— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) March 23, 2014
He won't get it... but thanks Pelton. AND NOW, KAWHI LEONARD EVERYBODY
Kawhi Leonard grabbed a rebound, and later saved a ball from an over and back violation, in ways that seemed comic book hero-ish— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 23, 2014
Odds and Ends
- The play that got Pop his eighth tech was legitimately strange. Looking back at the tape, Pop didn't appear to be mad about anything, or expressing frustration to the ref that called the T. In fact, play had just stopped because Andrew Bogut had fouled Tiago Splitter, a call the refs correctly made. Apparently Pop was yelling "give me a T," and the ref obliged. Nice to have a ref give Pop what he wants.
- Marco Belinelli earned Fox Sports Southwest's Play of the Game tonight for a nifty shoulder fake on Klay Thompson in the post that led to a beautiful fadeaway. Fun fact, it was Belinelli's second post up this year.
- I mentioned Austin Daye's name above as an end of the bench guy, and he undoubtedly is. But he got burn for the third time as a Spur last night, and he didn't disappoint. Inserted into a competitive game in the third quarter (likely to preserve some sort of rotation in the midst of Manu/Tim sitting), Daye seemed unusually confident and in tune with the Spurs offensive sets, flying into position to make pics and finding ways of getting open for players to find him. Daye made a beautiful cut right into a struggling Marco Belinelli's eyeline, then dipped a touch pass off to Jeff Ayres for a layup. Lastly, Daye put his freakish arms to good use and blocked Draymond Greene on what looked like a routine jumper. I don't know if Daye is going to stick with the Spurs... but this was a solid game for the kid.
- I have barely mentioned Tony Parker this rehash, but it should be said he brought out the SPIN CYCLE twice tonight, to gorgeous and unfathomable effect. The man is a dervish, and it whirls.
- Ok one more...
vs. Philadelphia 76ers (15-55), Monday March 24, 7:30pm CST: I have to say I agree with Danny Green... I feel so bad for Brett Brown. Whether by ownership incompetency or the more likely circumstance of tanking, the 76ers have been trotting out a glorified D-League team for the past few months on the way to a staggering 24 game losing streak. The longest losing streak in NBA history is 26 games, set in 2010-11 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. It would be a shame for the Spurs to not allow the 76ers to get to their record. C'mon Spurs! Just show up, it'll probably be that easy!